Banked hubs are costly to an airline, there’s a lot of activity, a lot of downtime, and they wind up paying people to stand around. But they’re attractive for selling tickets — shorter connecting times mean flights filter up to the top of search. Customers want to get where they’re going quickly. The problem is during irregular operations — bad weather can delay flight departures, then there are no gates for arriving flights, and challenges connecting cascade.
One key factor in customers choosing an airline, after price, is total flying time. Shorter trips often show up higher in flight search.
So reducing connecting time doesn’t just get customers to their destinations faster when everything goes right, it also increases the likelihood that customers will buy from an airline. The challenge of course is when things go wrong.
The idea is that planes land and are turned around quickly. By compressing flight arrivals followed by departures you’re increasing the number of connections that appear to appeal to passengers.
- Compared to a rolling hub where flights arrive and depart evenly throughout the day this means more employees handling more passengers at peak times. It also means lulls at the airport where you’re paying those employees to wait for the next bank of flights.
- This approach more fully utilizes gates during peak times. During irregular operations it’s more likely to cause problems that cascade throughout the system, gates unavailable when planes don’t push back and planes therefore arriving without a gate. Shorter connection times mean more missed flights.
- Shorter connections also mean less airport shopping revenue for merchants, although there’s a drive towards app-based ordering of food in advance and delivery to gates at many airports which means less time is required for spending money at the airport. There’s less browsing though which does detract from retail sales. (By the way airlines take a piece of retail.)
United believes that re-banking their hubs will earn them greater market share from smaller cities based on the number of desirable connections that can be offered to smaller city passengers.
The airline will re-bank their Denver hub next week. The perspicacious Brian Sumers has a great chart showing how flights will cluster:
United will re-bank its Denver hub next week. What does this mean? The airline is re-timing flights so more customers can make connections. It's fine to focus on United making product and customer service improvements, but scheduling is important, too. pic.twitter.com/R7DTX4izaC
— Brian Sumers (@BrianSumers) February 7, 2019